The Coke Museum: A Corporation Worships…Itself

The corporatization of American culture has just taken another step toward total immersion.

Tomorrow, Coca-Cola is opening what I think is our first corporate “museum”. Called, modestly enough, The World of Coca-Cola, it mimics a real museum in every respect with exhibits, Coke-related art, historic “artifacts” (their word), and dioramas. There’s even a movie theater where you can watch old Coke commercials, no doubt while a stentorian voice in the background drones on about the cultural significance of Coke ads. Other companies have built paeans to themselves stocked with “memorabilia” but Coke is the first one I know of to dedicate an entire building to itself and call it a “museum”. It replaces the old WoCC near Atlanta’s underground, a much smaller place that never had museumistical pretensions.

Not content with slapping their names all over everything in sight in exchange for cash, our corporatocracy is now attaching to itself the same mantle of historic and cultural significance as, say, the Smithsonian or the Huntington, equating its ads with folk art and its Art-Deco lunch-boxes with Egyptian ceremonial jars.

Before the advent of corporate worship a quarter-century ago, this would have been laughed out of court. Now it’s not only taken seriously, its managers are downplaying the opening because they’re afraid so many people will come that the “museum” will be overwhelmed its first weekend.

[A]ttractions want to avoid bringing in more customers than they can handle, said Mark Newton, program director of the hotel, restaurant, tourism management program at Gwinnett Tech. He said Underground, in one of its revitalizations 20 years ago, aggressively advertised its reopening, but was overwhelmed when more people than anticipated showed up.

“A million people came out and it was crazy,” he said. “They ran out of beer, it was crowded, customers were upset and employees were upset. A lot of people said they would never come again.”

Yes, well, we wouldn’t want that to happen to Coke. Gawd forbid.

The American corporatocracy has never been shy about giving itself credit for just about anything, from the American Revolution to the fall of the Berlin Wall, so as arrogant as it has become, it’s no real surprise that it’s starting to erect cultural monuments to itself. I mean, why donate money to a real museum chock full of dusty antiques nobody cares about when you can’t even put your label on it? (The Barbie Museum of Modern Art? The SmithSonyan Institute?)

Corporatism has infected American culture like a virus. We don’t even think a museum dedicated to a commercial product is worthy of note. It’s just another part of a public landscape littered with ads, logos, and slogans. TV commercials are piped directly into our grade school classrooms, forests of billboards block out what used to be magnificent natural vistas, our architecture is defaced by commercial murals, our public spaces are treated by corporations as if they owned them, we even walk around with ads emblazoned on the clothes we wear.

Consider Grunge: it’s impossible for us to create something that corporate America won’t instantly co-opt to sell its junk to us. Grunge was invented as a deliberate attempt to make a cultural statement against corporate values and within a year was subsumed by the corporate hunger for new sales gimmicks and became just another advertising campaign.

Corporations run our governments from the local level on up to the Congress and the White House, dictate our foreign policy, control the economies of whole countries, and determine what universities will teach and which studies they will pursue. They control our transportation system, our information systems, our educational system, our political system, our economic system – virtually every aspect of our lives, birth to death. And we don’t seem to think there’s anything…odd about that.

Americans spend almost 2/3 of their adult lives attached to work and the workplace – more if you count the time they spend educating themselves for jobs. They marry, have kids, grow families, take care of ailing parents, take care of their homes, practice citizenship, and even make love within the dinky third that’s left. We are squeezed like lemons by corporations making ever more demands on our time.

A decade ago, technology expert Danny Goodman predicted in his book, Living at Light Speed, that all the electronic advances in information technology that come with computers and the internet were going to allow our bosses to expect us to be available for work 24/7 in an economy that never stopped, never slowed down, never rested.

His prediction is coming true even as we speak. Palm pilots, Blackberries, wi-fi, Bluetooth, cell phones – they all ensure we’re hooked into and available to our employers at all times and in all places. Vacations are shrinking, weekends barely exist any more, and the 5-day, 40-hr week is ancient history. If we ever stop to smell the roses, it’s in the 15 seconds between one business call and the next.

We don’t work to live any more. We live to work.

Except, of course, for those of us who can’t find work because the corporatocracy has moved our jobs to low-wage, no-regulation countries where its power to exploit both workers and national resources is almost unlimited.

Is the “World of Coke” really the world we want to live in? Because that’s the world we’re making when we remove restrictions from the capitalist machinery and let it run wild. We may even be letting corporate greed destroy the planet we live on. Are we prepared to do that? For the sake of a paycheck?

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